blog by Rasha Hassan
“In order to invest in the future, you need to invest in the youth” illustrates the essence of the importance of youth engagement. As a youth voice, I will try to discuss my perspective and experience of the youth engagement in the water sector.
In my opinion, the water sector should be a pioneer in activating the participation of youth due to the water itself. Water is intergenerational, so it is the link between now and any moment of the future. This feature should encourage the whole water sector to understand that this link is represented by the youth who have a lot to offer. Moreover, water is a renewable resource so are the youth. This feature is illustrated by their creativity, fast adaptation and enthusiasm. Youth are driven by dreams and imagination which normally decrease in the course of our life. Thus, mobilizing this intensive power (youth) to the extreme would benefit the water sector enormously.
Water is the essence of our life, so it integrates with many aspects of people’s life and sometimes it generates extreme disasters such as droughts and floods. Due to this fact, we need to recognize that youth are split into two groups in the water sector: generally interested in water, and young water professionals. The first group is mostly the youth voices from all over the world and all walks of life. They are often represented individually or in youth environmental NGOs and want to engage in the water sector to convey the daily struggles and challenges faced by their communities, and try to develop this demanding reality into a better future. While, young water professionals are the juniors who will lead the water sector in the future. This fact challenges the water sector to accommodate equally both groups worldwide. Engaging the generally interested in water youth is essential but the mechanism is vague, and needs massive efforts of youth consultations, capacity building and creating discourse channels.
Regarding the professional youth who I belong to, the international academic programmes with offered scholarships are on the top of the steps of empowering youth, so they can fully engage. An example is the Water and Coastal Management, Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Programme which I hold its degree. This program opened doors to me and enabled me to expand my network. Furthermore, offering scholarships for international students mainly at the undergraduate water programmes level is an essential step. Although, it is rare because most water companies and organizations prefer to invest in a master/ PhD candidate than an undergrad. Also, the short courses programmes, which offer scholarships, are substantial opportunities to decrease the gap of knowledge, although their numbers can be counted on hands. Moreover, paid internships represent significant support to youth to incorporate them in the job sector.
Another challenge to the international water sector is assessing the needs of youth. The youth around the world are not equal which is a tough fact that we need to admit and address properly. Some societies perceive the engagement of youth as a must while others underestimate the value of youth. Hence, the acknowledgement of the value of youth roles in the society is varied worldwide which reflects on the development of their skills. In addition, some youth do not have the same opportunities, freedom of speech, education and financial resources. Furthermore, youth in the war zones are often marginalized and their talents are ignored. However, the international water sector deals with all the youth as equal again and again when it comes to recruiting, building capacity approaches and other opportunities. Here comes the role of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals not only are empowering the youth but also are altering the usual way of thinking in the water sector and motivating it to be more opened and more engaging.
In this complex situation, two main international professional youth networks are recognized in the water sector: The Water Youth Network and The World Youth Parliament for Water. The Water Youth Network, as an example, brings youth together from all over the world to volunteer and give their time to contribute in thematic groups that offer different opportunities. This dynamic of operating using a youth framework provides leadership skills, the sense of responsibility and the ability to make a difference to the involved youth. Furthermore, the partnership opportunities with recognized international organizations open doors toward merging two different perspectives in one project which leads to achieving exchanging of resources, skills and experience. The existence of both organizations is key to deliver the voices of youth, contribute slightly in the policymaking process and have the experience of leadership.
I can not write about this topic without mentioning “The Valuing Water Initiative” which is trying to address the youth engagement in the water sector by defining its various facets. It is key to link the feedback from youth and from recruiters at the same time to have a fruitful youth engagement in the future.
I can say that the water sector is trying to invest in youth and achieve better youth engagement, however youth need more developed and transparent mechanisms, better commitment from the recruiters and donors, and a boost from the international water events. These events are the right place to convey the youth voices by meeting and talking with policymakers, leaders and recruiters, so engaging the youth at many levels of the event is key.
Finally, when you are reading this piece, you need to put in mind this simple effort as an example of youth engagement. The Amsterdam International Water Week gave me the opportunity as a young water professional to reach out to people by blogging about different topics in the water sector. Thus, believe in youth and let them contribute to your organization in a way or another.